Monday, October 31, 2005

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Winner...

In  the post "Complicity" I spoke about how an essential part of the relationship between conjuror and audience was the latter's willingness to suspend disbelief, becoming a complicit part of the deception.

Yesterday I received one of the many 419-emails offering Lottery millions. Like the emails promising a half share in fortunes locked in a vault in an African bank, and just needing someone from the West to claim them, this email smelt of scam from the start.  “This program was largely promoted and sponsored by a group of philanthropist, industrialists from the internet ware industry and some other big multinational firms who wish to be anonymous. “ rather gives the game away…and yet I was struck by the complicity urge; you know it’s a con, but some part of you wants to engage, wants to believe.

A few years ago I went on an art college trip to Barcelona. Up and down the main drag, local wide boys were doing the cup and ball routine on upturned suitcases. You know the thing, the three cups move around at lightning speed, and you bet on the final destination of the ball. As we walked past on the way to the Hotel a couple of the lads on the course laughed at the foolishness of tourists who bet and lost on such nonsense. But you guessed it, a couple of days later the same lads shamefacedly returned to the hotel, with one of them having lost best part of £100 on the very same game.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cassette Fetish

Last week I received an email asking if I would like to join a forum on cassette culture. Perhaps after years of neglect has the day of the humble cassette finally come?

The great thing about the cassette was that in the period 1978-81 it broke the censorship which vinyl had imposed on music making and distribution. Even after punk and the rise of the independent label the costs of making and the difficulties of distributing records were still insurmountable hurdles for most bedroom artists. Vinyl and its successor the CD don’t really make sense as a way of producing small numbers of copies. Any print based medium (records, books, films etc) that necessitates the making of a master form which copies are then made will always load cost at the front end, the mastering stage. These costs not only provide a barrier to entry (a fixed sum has to be found), but also are weighed against anyone wanting to make a small number of copies. The more copies you make, the more those cost are diluted, but at the 200 to 500 stage which is where most DIY artists are working, it's all cost and you are hard pressed (pardon the pun) to just pay for the mastering. This would be different of course were people willing to pay more for small runs, but bizarrely its often been small labels who have been the first to try and reduce the price of the finished item. Mass produced records should; always have been dirt-cheap; £1 would be about the right price for a million sellers, whereas your small run should be £25.

The humble tape exhibits the reverse of the print phenomena; it makes more sense the less copies you make. The one-to-one copying system has no mastering costs, nor does the photocopied cover. There was also no need to make any more copies than you needed. However this is even truer of the MP3 where you do away with the physical format altogether. Aside form bandwidth it makes no financial difference if 2 people download a file or 2 million. One could argue that the MP3 finishes off what the cassette started it takes the censorship out of the equation. But we are fickle consumers and like our things, we like to have and to hold, we love to finger the sleeves and collect and display. We even like getting things through the post. There may be a danger here of getting hung up on media specificity; of fetishising the cassette when it was the culture that mattered.

Update 2012. Amusing to read this entry form 2005 back as this year I had an LP released in an edition of 100 which indeed does cost £25 + to purchase. Seven years on the MP3 is the mainstream way of distributing music but LPs, and yes even cassettes are proving popular ways of releasing anything left of centre. An MP3 release will also struggle to get reviewed and still seems in some ways virtual.   

Monday, October 24, 2005

In Praise of Pastiche

Often during the piece of the week entries to this blog the phrase tongue in cheek pops up. For example Engine Trouble was “a short one minute piece celebrating (if somewhat tongue in cheek) the pleasures of motorbikin.”

But tongue in cheek suggests what; a lack of seriousness, a gentle bit of fun, a certain irony or perhaps a pastiche? All of these descriptions sound somewhat dismissive as if to be ‘tongue in cheek” was amusing but perhaps little more. However such dismissiveness is far from what is intended, indeed I would argue that tongue in cheek thinking is central to a reflexive post modernist art practice.

Key to this is pastiche. Pastiche has rather a bad press recently; it is often used in a derogatory sense. Thus much of the architecture championed by Prince Charles is described by architecture journals as “merely a pastiche of Victorian/ classical architecture”. In other words it’s a fake, a phoney lacking integrity and substance. I wouldn’t disagree with this assessment but I would disagree with the use of the word pastiche.

The word pastiche originally implied a certain transvestisism; it was a knowing imitation of another, imitating, but respectful to the original. In the Late 19th century it began to acquire a second meaning, which implies less of a careful studied understanding and more of a mannered copying. A pastiche then became a msih mash of styles, a hodge podge. As such pastiche became in certain quarters a term of abuse. The original meaning remained but was increasingly threatened by the second.

High Modernism of course disliked the whole idea of pastiche; the Greenbergian emphasis on the integrity of material saw pastiche as too lightweight, fey and threatening. Post modernism arguably embraced pastiche as a key way of displacing the integrity of authorship and of undermining the original in favour of the metatext full of quotes and nods and winks to this and that. However the plunderphonic approach has become somewhat stale of late and artistically and philosophically there has been something of a yearning for a return to the certainties of value if not to the actual establishment values of yesteryear.

This manifests itself in a number of ways. For example on the Momus blog recently there was a heated debate about a new Resonance radio show by Rhodri. The crux of Momus’s gripe with Rhodri seemed to be that he was proposing a show that embraced mainstream music such as Toto and that under the guise of irony the show was acting as a Trojan horse for the dilution of the core avant garde values of Resonance. Rhodri for his part argued that his liking of Toto was not ironic, this was not a case he said of its so bad its good. Rhodri said he genuinely liked Toto and the Doobie Brothers just as he liked more left field music such as Momus.

The positions adopted by Momus and Rhodri can be seen as very similar manifestations of late postmodernism. In Momus’s case we have a desire for a return to the integrity of avant garde, complete with a dislike for the perceived Trojan horse of irony and pastiche in Rhodri’s case there is a similar dismissal of irony but on the grounds that there is no division between the values of the mainstream and the avant garde, no high or low brow, its all just music. Both approaches of are in their way misguided and misunderstand the importance of pastiche.

Pastiche if used correctly can be a reflexive tool; it allows the wearing of the clothes of the other whilst retaining a distance. Pastiche admits an attraction for the form and nuances of what is being “covered” but without succumbing to it.It’s a tricky balance; get too close and you slip from pastiche into mimicry and then from mimicry into actually adopting the style of the other.

Pastiche is not kitsch, it can be applied to both to the popular and to the materialist. It is not an excuse for anything goes mix and match. Duchamp the arch practitioner of pastiche is often accused of ushering in a phase of simple reconctextualisation in fine art but Duchamp always kept his distance; carefully limiting the numbers of ready-mades aware of how seductive they could be.

It is perhaps only by accepting that romantic seduction is part of the creative process that it can be held in check. To deny it as modernism and materialism so often does it be left will almost nothing but process, to give in it to is also a dead-end of sentimental abandon.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Fingers no Thumbs

Every now and then I do a software search to see what new max/msp audio and video patches have been developed recently. Mostly its a series of dead end downloads but occasionally one hits on something useful and/or unexpected. Today’s search for video scratching for example produced a link to the following animation, nothing to do with video scratching as such but highly enjoyable all the same.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Death's Door

A fortnight ago I was in B &Q looking at kitchen units, sadly this week I was at the funeral directors helping organise a funeral. One might have thought these two activities would have little in common, but in a modern menu driven world there were a number of similarities. In both cases you sit down with a sympathetic employee, respectively a “director” and a “designer” who guide you through the various options "at this difficult and stressfull time". There is option A, involving x number of cupboards with 3 drawer units, built in appliances and a recessed sink, or option B with full hearse and limo procession and floral tributes. Price is referred to, but discreetly you understand.

Once you have decided on the overall framework, you are shown catalogues with the various styles of “unit” on offer. The “units” have name such as Windsor or Beckford. The most expensive are made of solid wood but most are MDF with a thin wood veneer, or wood effect veneer (in other words plastic). So yes coffins and kitchen units are manufactured in just the same way and of course in the same place, China.

When my time comes I wish to short circuit the whole process and be buried in my old kitchen units.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Gustav Metzger is my Dad

In the Inbox yesterday came the press release for a new exhibition at the Centre of Attention: The Centre of Attention is delighted to present a new piece: Fodder (shredded proposals). The Centre of Attention commissioned a selection of artists unrepresented by a commercial dealer to put forward a proposal on paper for a show, a work or an idea etc. 15 artists took part. All the proposals from these artists were then collected by us and shredded. This shredded material was gathered up and placed on a plinth in the gallery space. And finally it was given a name... Fodder

This reminded me a little of an exhibition we did at Camerawork. Entitled Gustav Metzger is my Dad, AKA The Shredding Show, it involved the shredding of the organisation’s paperwork in “celebration” of London Arts Board decision to cut the core funding (this despite Camerawork having just been awarded a lottery grant to buy the building).

Gustav himself turned up and put a few documents through the machine, and by the close of the weekend the gallery was knee deep in shredded paper. London Arts were themselves shredded a few years later by the new Arts Council but by then it was too late for Camerawork who were “merged” with Four Corners.

Gustav Metzger is my Dad was the product of group curation: the idea of doing the shredding was mine, John Roberts came up with the title, and Geoff Cox commissioned the software to do an online version (he also took the pics on this page).

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Submerging Artist

The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill reopens this weekend after a major lottery funded revamp. The theme for the first exhibition in the new gallery space is Variety and, promises a mix of "established and emerging artists".

Established is a pretty straightforward term but what exactly is an emerging artist? Neither well known nor, God forbid unknown, emerging suggests some long slow exit from out the cocoon of obscurity into the limelight. The term is a fairly recent invention; originally cooked up by gallery PR departments keen to assure their potential audiences that though they may not have heard of the artists on show, one can rest assured that they will be famous really soon.

Funding bodies latched on to emerging, as a useful term to describe programmes aimed at encouraging career development. Such schemes often involve one to one mentoring and, the teaching of some basic management skills and are based on the assumption that with the correct application any art school graduate can make a career for themselves as an artist.

That those leaving college should be offered some guidance rather than thrown on to the mercies of an inhospitable artworld makes good sense however the supposed professionalisation of artistic life often favours those who are good form fillers. You know the sort, they methodically apply for everything, attend all the right conferences and openings, network (in itself a loathsome term that tries to make a business proposition out of friendship) furiously with curators and other movers and shakers, and gradually make a place and a name for themselves.

These then are the emerging artists, and they are not ashamed to say so indeed on Friday I happened across a webs site for one soul who opened their personal statement (every emerging artist must have a concise statement where they succinctly describe their practice and the passions that drive them) with the phrase "I am an emerging artist".

For how long though can one be emergent? If after many years no one has still hared of you, what then, do you perhaps become a submerging artist? This should not be read, as an advocacy of the romantic notions of the solitary artist toiling unknown in their garret but, the problem with emerging is that it places the emphasis in the wrong place. When occasionally asked into art colleges to talk to students I always emphasis that what is important after college is establishing ways in which you can keep your practice going in the face of almost inevitable indifference. Some form filling might help but making the work is what matters and no amount of mentoring and professional development can really help with that.

We would all like our work seen or heard by, as many people as possible but numbers are less important than a critical context both internal and external. With the yba movement, Tate Modern and the Frieze art fair many in the UK have, convinced themselves  that London is at the heart of a thriving art scene. In practice though discourse and dialogue has often been replaced by the fripperies of fashion. Artists may emerge, but it is from out from the fog of obscurity (a veritable psouper?) into a critical vacuum.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A rocco Din

A Rocco Din is an anagram of accordion, and the piece started out life in 2001 when I first began experimenting with software that can synchronise sound and image. Many of the installations I made throughout the 1990’s also linked audio and the visual, often through analogue triggering devices reworked from circuits originally designed for discothèque lighting. In the same way the first apps that became available for synchronised sound and image manipulation were intended for those somewhat unloved practitioners the VJ.

The VJ has yet to attain the dance floor status of the DJ, and many VJs seem happy providing a visual backdrop to the records being played. Taking the music as a given, something to be added to, makes what could be a potentially interesting form of expression into something that is arguably compromised. However as with the disco lighting circuitry once one takes charge of both audio and visual elements, something far more interesting can be squeezed out of VJ software.
Videodelic is just such a programme. From U and I software. Designed with the VJ and simple thumping beats in mind, if left to its own devices it can have you producing some nice, but fairly meaningless eye candy in no time. With a lot of patience one can get the programme to do more interesting audio-visual combinations.
With A Rooco Din what started as a simple idea in 2001 to get the accordion to visually play itself, took some three years to get right. The music and picture movements were written simultaneously. The pitch of the notes corresponds to the digital manipulation of the image. So for example if one wanted the image to rotate one would write an ascending sequence; the greater the span of notes the greater the rotation. The faster the notes the quicker the speed of the spin and son. This principle can be extended to image stretching, overlaying, colouring, feedback and so on.
The results to some extent echo those of experimental animators such as Norman Mclaren except in McLaren’s case he either wrote to completed scores or music was added afterwards. By “composing” music and image movement at the same time it is possible to extend the paradigm. In the case of A Rocco Din the accordion music is playing the image of itself (a single photo of the instrument). This seemed a nice twist on actual accordion playing where the variations in melody and tempo are accompanied by quite physical movement on the part of the accordionist and accordion.
So rather than the rude and artificial separation that occurs in reproduced music and video the two senses are reunited but in an unpredictable way; the accordion moves as the music rises and falls but not in the usual way.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Great Unheard

Along with the alchemists desire to distort, morph and generally turn a sound inside out to reveal its hidden audio self, comes a yearning for the great unheard. The great unheard is that obscure LP languishing in some dusty corner of the second hand record shop, hidden in a pile at a jumble sale or even down some rarely visited byway of hyperspace. The unheard, sounds like nothing else, a collision of form and structure, tonal palette, chord progression and all the rest to produce a unique, almost impossible record.

The unheard is the Holy Grail for all collectors; its sheer elusive unobtaianability keeps them searching, keeps them hungry. For myself, as a teen and well into my twenties and thirties I spent time and money (student grants, wages, giros, whatever) hunting down that elusive albimn. After so many false promises and dashed hopes and just simple disappointment I began to think that the unheard was indeed just that, the “other”, a negative whose inverse existence was hypothetically possible but ultimately must remain theoretical and intangible.

So when late in the day, when I wasn’t even really looking anymore I stumbled across it, perhaps unsurprising at first I didn’t recognise it, didn’t see it for what is was, but I can now report I have found the great unheard. Its title is Wicked Ivory by Hot Thumbs O'Riley.

That the unheard should have been found by absent mindedly and randomly clicking next blog in the blogger tool bar is all the more unlikely. Usually this brings you nothing more than someone else’s open-air laundry basket; those kiss and tell diarists who hide behind pseudonyms so transparent they might as well be proclaiming in person at speakers corner. On this occasion though the click took me to Boot Sale Sounds run by artist Michael Leigh. Michael is into mail art and seems to run a number of blogs connected to the world of ephemera. Boot Sale is described as a “music blog, mainly featuring records and tapes found at boot sales, charity shops and flea markets. Mainly comedy, novelty and odd items that are hard to catagorise. “ This is a fairly accurate description for most of Michael’s finds are familiar to anyone who has spent time in pursuit of the great unheard. There is the usual collection of quirky, cheesy easy listening with off beat cover art. The sort of stuff you drag home play to an understanding friend and then turf out a few years later.

At the bottom of the page however was Hot Thumbs O'Riley. Given the context and the cover I just assumed this was another wacky keyboard LP, perhaps in the vein of Klaus Wunderlich’s Sound 200 series. I downloaded Warm Rumours, one of the tracks on offer and pretty much left it at that. A few days later when looking for some source material to try out a granular synthesis programme I gave Hot Thumbs a go. Initially it seemed as if the granular programme was capable of some very nice syncopated manipulations but quickly I realised it was the track and not the programme. I returned to Boot Sale and downloaded the other track entitled Currently Cheesing. This has some of the peculiar changes of tempo of Warm Rumours but features a vocal that wouldn’t seem out of place on Hunky Dory. However Hot Thumbs is not one of the many second rate Bowie influenced singers as Wicked Ivory was recorded at roughly the same time. Other tracks on the album have a similar sense of dislocation as if Hot Thumbs O'Riley was the product of some slight genetic mutation producing a warped parallel musical universe in which everything was familiar but different.

A little digging revealed Wicked ivory to be the work of Jim Pembroke an Englishman who followed his girlfriend to Finland and stayed there for most of the 70’s. Pembroke became a member of the finish prog group Wigwam. Wigwam were that oddity a prog group who could keep things short and necessary. Most of the giants of prog kept things long and unnecessary both musically and folically. Pembroke’s pop sensibility and penchant for off the wall lyrics also confused the mix creating a tension between the more muso elements in the band and his inclination towards brevity and sometimes bluseyness. Within the context of Wigwam this could produce some interesting results but on Wicked Ivory when Pembroke was backed by Wigwam members everything seems to have gelled just perfectly.

Oh and by the way it’s a concept album. The concept is that the recording was made at a live “battle of the bands” with tracks by different artist interspersed by crowd noise and announcements. As unlikely as anything Ray Davis might have dreamed up this technique does work to link up the disparate styles.

So there it is then the great unheard, a work of effortless genius, released originally on Charisma and reissued this year on Love Records. The easiest way to track down the CD is on eBay where it can be obtained directly from Finland. You can satisfy your audio curiosity now by listening to two tracks from the LP at Boot Sale Sounds.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Fair Trade

It’s that time of year again, time for the Frieze Art Fair and the adverts in the broadsheets are promising queue jumping tickets if you book now.

Art Fairs are where the commercial underbelly of the gallery system normally glossed over by artist and critics alike is on full display. Most contemporary galleries when on their home turf act almost as if they were philanthropic organisations simply displaying art for the public good; there is usually little to indicate that the work is on sale.

At Art Fairs that all changes; instead of the studied neutrality of the white cube we get a few knocked up white boards looking for a all the world like an end of term degree show. From their stands the gallery owners look out keenly for potential buyers. To tempt the punters prints and other more 'affordable' merchandise are on offer. Any notion of curation goes out the window as the stallholders all but cry “roll up roll up, top quality Emin and Quinn, four Lucas prints for 10 grand”.

That the thread of silver that ties the whole of the commercial gallery system together is so nakedly on show, could arguably be said to be a good thing, after all you can’t accuse someone of being a money making hypocrite when they are standing keen eyed beside a cash register. It is perhaps the passivity of the punters that is so annoying at such events. They queue long and hard to get in and then meekly hand over £15 fro the pleasure of subsidising a trade fair. Most will not be able to afford even the 'affordable' prints and yet trot from stand to stand as if they were privileged to be allowed in, as if in some sad way by attending they were part of the inner sanctum of the art world. Instead of overturning the tables or at least asking for their money back the Art Fair visitor contents themselves with a few purchases from the bookshop. You can’t buy the art but you can have a coffee table book about it.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Contemporary sound making is obsessed with manipulation. Sounds are variously: distorted, fuzzed, flanged, phased, pitch shifted, EQ’d, echoed, reverbed, ring modulated, filtered, panned split into grains and reassembled, glitched, stretched, morphed, and so on. One wonders what sound did to deserve such treatment(s). All of this has an the air of alchemy about it; as if put through enough processes the base metal of everyday noise will give up its acoustic secrets and be transformed into something new and unexpected.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Go Now

Last week’s announcement that the London congestion charge is to be extended westwards despite two public consultations indicating public opposition to such a move came as little surprise. The mayor Ken Livingstone apparently commented that the consultations, which his office had organised were in some way not representative and, that they had conducted other surveys which showed far less opposition to the increase in the zone.

As a non car owning public transport using Londoner I am generally sympathetic to the congestion charge but this lack of public accountability, indeed outright refusal to take into account the public’s wishes is very much indicative of the way Labour (new or in Ken’s case old) operates. In Hastings last year the council backed regeneration quango came up with a proposal to build a hotel on the seafront completely blocking the view of one of Hastings’ most prestigious Georgian crescents. There was wide spread opposition to the plan to ruin Pelham crescent but the council went ahead and commissioned a number of major architectural firms to produce proposals fro the hotel. These were then exhibited as part of a public consultation process.

Those attending the exhibition were guided round the display by representatives of the quango, eager to answer questions on the various schemes. Before leaving the exhibition punters were given a card on which they were asked to indicate which of the schemes they preferred. When I asked why there was a “none of the above” box I was told that this was not an option. The former architect in charge of the regeneration team (seconded of course from the council) said that they would be building one of the projects whatever the opposition. This before of course any of the schemes had been granted planning permission.

The full charm of Hastings council’s consultative process was shown when a peaceful protestor who had the temerity to hand out leaflets against the project outside the exhibition was arrested and charged with a number of offences. Only after the incident was reported in private eye and the national press where the charges dropped.

Back in London at the Elephant, Southwark council is no better. Some five years ago they announced in a blaze of publicity that the Elephant & Castle regeneration would adopt a unique tri-partite approach involving the council the developer, and a community forum. This was to be one step on from consultation, the community actively involved in every stage of the process.

However its soon became clear that the council were not really expecting that the community would have any real say in what went on but just be kept” in the loop”. Within a short space of time community forum and council were at loggerheads. The council continually starved the forum of funds and vital information. At the last moment without consulting anyone the council got cold feet and dumped the developer and closed down the forum. A new regeneration scheme is now on the way with of course no mention of the tri-partite arrangement.

As with all things these local lags get their lead from the top, and Tony Blair has established himself as the master of the lip service consultancy process. Time and time again Blair asks the public what they think and then does what he was planning to do all along. No one but Blair could have failed to notice that the public were deeply hostile to war in/on Iraq but several marches and a bruising round of TV studio appearances later he could only say that well whilst he respected that people might not agree with him someone (I.E. him) had to take the tough decisions.

In many ways it is as if Thatcher was still in power but without an opposition. In most key areas Blair’s politics are unashamedly Thatcherite, often going even further than the Iron Lady. But whereas Thatcher at least had the then Labour party to call her to account Blair has no one. The Tory party who have been sans culottes since Tony took theirs have little to say on most issues and just waste time electing a new fall guy, meanwhile the Liberals are so ineffective as to be all but invisible. Brown bites his tongue, ever more bitter but still not wishing to publicly upsetting the apple cart. Cherie Blair’s letterbox smile at last week’s party conference said it all, we are untouchable.

So it is time for a new charity single. Not a further extension of the gobshite Geldof’self aggrandisement project but a coming together of singers of a all persuasions in a rousing rendition of the Moody Blues sixties song Go Now. For those to young to recall the lyrics…

said you gotta go, oh you had better
Go now go now, go now
(Go now) Before you see me cry

This should be chanted everywhere from terraces to supermarket aisles, school assemblies to choral evensong. Whistled by milkmen and streamed over the Internet, till Tony himself finds he is picking out the notes out on his ukulele. Go Now!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Fishing Line

In the late 90's I used to do an occassional Faxzine. One page of vaguely topical/cryptic what have you faxd to the great and the not so good odf the artworld. Here are a few examples.